San Jacinto Peak — Page 2

Palm Springs Aerial Tram

Take the Tram

Despite my conservationist roots, I've come to appreciate the wisdom of exposing people to wilderness—especially those who would otherwise never experience it. True, such intrusions are not without cost.

But people can be changed by nature, and the value of such transformations can be formidable indeed. The Palm Springs Aerial Tram accomplishes exactly this purpose. Without it, only a handful of extreme hikers would ever access the San Jacinto Wilderness from the north. Via the Tram, hikers and sightseers are whisked from the desert's chalky sand to cool mountain pines and meadows, which they may wander at their leisure.

Palm Springs and Tram Sign Tram Parking Lot Palm Springs Tram Cables - Looking Down

My brother and I agreed to meet at the Tram's parking lot early on a Sunday for our own adventure in the San Jacintos.

Oddly, I'd never hiked to the top of Mount San Jacinto.

Too many other California mountains had grabbed my attention instead.

But San Jacinto was a prominent target for my brother, who was spending a year in nearby San Diego, and often saw the peak's impressive outline on the horizon.

So we'd agreed to climb it.

Driving east on the 10 freeway, temperatures were already in the nineties by seven a.m.

The sky over the Los Angeles basin was thick with smoke from severe forest fires over the San Bernardino Mountains, mixed with an unwelcome flow of monsoon moisture coming up from Mexico.

Southern California thunderstorms are rare, even in the mountains, but every so often the monsoon drifts westward, making severe storms possible.

As I waited at the parking lot for my brother to arrive, the sky was dark and discouraging. A group of German tourists approached and asked if I thought it was worth it to buy a Tram ticket. I told them I figured the Tram would get us above all the smoke, at least—but I didn't tell them I expected it would be raining at the top by the time we got there.

My brother arrived. We bought our tickets and boarded the Tram. For those who've never taken the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, the ride alone is well worth the ticket price. The steep and rapid ascent up 6000 vertical feet is inspiring. A little terrifying, too, unless you're extremely fond of heights. Most impressively, the Tram takes you to another world in the span of fifteen minutes—Cactus to Clouds indeed.

With each tower we passed, the Tram car would make a great, swooping arc that filled our stomachs with butterflies and made our knees shake. In its current incarnation, the Palm Springs Tram features a rotating cabin to allow travelers a 360 degree view. While this design probably looked good on paper, in person it is primarily just annoying. Let us hope the powers that be will eventually replace it with a more classic cabin.

Regardless, the view as we ascended grew more and more impressive. The Tram's base station and parking lot soon vanished in the distance. And, as I had hoped, the Tram did indeed take us up above the smoke. Better yet, the clouds melted away, revealing a bright blue sky overhead.

next: Round Valley

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.